Growing your intercultural competence

You don’t know what you don’t know. If we want to grow and improve ourselves, we have to know where we need to focus our energy and attention. If our goal is to be more capable and effective engaging with difference and diversity, we must first explore our own differences.

Just like the the 10,000 hour rule, intended to improve our intercultural competency (or any other skill), we need to make a commitment to intentional and ongoing practice of engaging with difference to improve.

Unfortunately, very few skills in life get better passively or automatically. Star athletes rely on coaches, personal trainers, and structured workout plans to focus their energy and improve their skills. In this same vein, the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) can help focus and improve your intercultural competency through structured and personalized development plans utilizing coaching and self-reflective activities. The process starts with identifying how we currently engage with difference to grow, adapt, and improve.

People may want to improve their intercultural competency for a myriad of reasons including personal growth, professional skill building, improving team dynamics, or making their workplace a more inclusive environment. While the IDI is an exceptional tool for personal growth, it is equally effective at enabling organizations to more successfully engage with, and across, difference. However, just as on the individual level where “you don’t know what you don’t know,” so too must an organization understand their current culture and approach engaging with difference to make an intentional effort to change course.

An organization that values and actively promotes intercultural competency among both leadership and staff is able to respond to challenges more dynamically, benefit more fully from the diversity of their workforce, and function more effectively overall.

By engaging with the IDI on a group or institutional level, you also establish an inclusive element to your organizational culture that will permeate decision making, protocol, and policies moving forward. For example, intercultural competency is vital to universities and educational institutions as it allows the institution to engage with students more appropriately and effectively. This would be seen through outreach and recruitment, training for faculty, as well as how (and what) programming and services are offered to both meet the needs of the current students, and attract a broader student body.


Intercultural competency is a fundamental skill for the modern workplace and can enrich personal life as well. However, the term’s meaning or how to practice and improve this skill is not always clear.

The Center for Rural Affairs offers several tools, coaching services, and educational series on this topic. One tool is the “Intercultural Development Inventory,” designed to effectively measure and build intercultural competence in individuals and institutions.

To learn more about this educational growth opportunity, please contact Jordan Feyerherm at JordanF@cfra.org.